Monday, January 27, 2014

10 years ago… looking at the future: BMW i3.

The challenging project which BMW has been working on for a decade is related to the topic of the second module of our SCM course, New Product Design for Operational Effectiveness and Planning Demand and Supply in a Supply Chain.

The challenge that BMW accepted consisted of revolutionizing the world of cars, thinking of an environmentally sustainable solution. Widespread concerns about pollution and global warming have resulted in the resolution that the production of CO2 which cars are responsible for must be reduced. New technological products must be used, which enhance performance still remaining environmentally friendly. So, last year, after a decade of research and development, BMW finally came out with the i3 production, its first electronic vehicle, realized with carbon fiber composites and at zero-emission. To realize this car, some substantial changes to a classical BMW vehicle have been necessary. The first one was the substitution of the traditional engine with an electrical one, and the introduction of several batteries as the alternative power source. Because the batteries required a lot of weight, BMW’s engineers were forced to substitute the heavy metal structure with a different one, which had to be lighter and, at the same time, resistent. And here is the second, most important innovation: the use of ultra-light carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), which allowed to create a pioneering new idea of car – light, stable, safe, commodious, and with an original look.

In order to realize the i3 project, BMW had to accept a risky gamble: embracing the carbon fiber composite technology and what this material implied. Specifically, the introduction of such a radically innovative material, with such unique features, implied a huge investment.  Moreover, the use of this innovative material meant struggling to find suppliers, modifying the manufacturing procedures,  constructing new, appropriate facilities and the entire supply chain. It took ten long years to turn this revolutionary idea into a truly pioneering product.

What will be the next challenge that BMW decides to take on? The production of smaller, lighter and more powerful batteries, in order to decrease the total weight of the vehicle and increase its performance? Or the construction of facilities for the internal production of the carbon fiber, which would be moved from the States to Germany, so to reduce the shipping time?

In the meantime, if you have a chance, click here to see a video on how the BMW i3 is made, from the process of production of the carbon fiber to the moulding of the body, and to its assembling. The video takes almost 75 minutes, but I found the construction process of this aestetically and technologically futuristic vehicle quite fascinating and certainly worth my time.


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